Friday, July 10, 2009

Mobile Technologies, Mobile Users: Implications for Academic Libraries

Mobile Technologies, Mobile Users: Implications for Academic Libraries / Joan K. Lippincott, Associate Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information / ARL 261 / December 2008 / pp. 1-4.

More and more Americans are using devicessuch as cell phones to seek information, not just to communicate.

At the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Office of Digital Humanities, staff are pursuing interest inmobile technologies that can be used in museums and historical places and that deliver “scans ofprimary documents, audio-visual materials, andscholarly analysis to enhance [one’s] understandingof the site.”

They are interested in funding projectsthat will address standards to assist in making these ideas practical. Will libraries be involved in similar efforts to supply content and services for access via mobile devices such as cell phones?


This brief survey of mobile technologies, learning, and libraries provides some examples of innovative ways in which a limited number of academic libraries are already designing services around mobile technologies and mobile users and lays out the issues that should be discussed on individual campuses that would like to examine their role in the move to mobile.


University Libraries and Mobile Users

Many faculty and others involved in the educationalprocess express concerns that Net Gen or Millennial students are wasting their time with technology and that their use of technology may even hinder their learning. However, some research sponsored by the UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) reported that students who are effective learners in the digital environment:

  • Use mobile phones, laptops, and PDAs to support their learning
  • Use software to create, manipulate, and present content
  • Seek peer support via informal networks of family by using e-mail, texting, chat, and Skype, “anunderworld of communication and information sharing


As university library personnel begin to plan howthey will address the needs of their clientele who use mobile devices, they should first clarify the meaning of “mobile library users” in the context of their campus.Mobile users can be:

• Faculty conducting research or teaching activities
Students who study entirely at a distance
Students whose courses include online andon-campus components
Learners in the field, e.g., clinical settings,professional internships• Learners using mobile devices such as clickersin the classroom
Learners using mobile devices for learningactivities outside of the classroom, e.g., classassignments and group projects


As libraries consider their re-tooling for mobile users and mobile devices, they should examine the consequences of mobility and the opportunities for innovation in the areas of content, systems and tools, services, and environments, both physical and virtual.

Mobilizing Content

What will library users want to access and actually read on mobile devices? What types of library users will be mostlikely to want to access content on mobile devices? At present, few libraries offer licensed content for mobile devices.


As higher education institutions increasingly use mobile devices for some courses, there may be opportunities for tie-ins with library content and services.


Libraries might want to offer a set of mobile formatted reference materials for students studying abroad. In some subject areas, students and researchers rely on quick reference sources; libraries might consider developing brief guides to reference sources by discipline and then linking to reference sources compatible for cellphone


At University of Nebraska–Omaha, the library has purchased the e-book reader Kindle and is lending it, along with access to popular fiction e-books, as a newservice. Their library patrons had been asking for access to popular fiction and the service has proved very popular. This library is also experimenting with using Kindles to fulfill interlibrary loan book requests, filling them “in a matter of minutes.

Another aspect of providing content for mobile devices is the opportunity to make university-affiliated content available for downloading to MP3 players and other devices. At the Arizona State University, the Library Channel provides access to content such as podcasts and videos on information literacy and guest speaker lectures. Libraries may want to consider how they could makes ome of the content in their institutional repository more available for mobile devices, if the content includes course lectures, podcasts, or similar content.

Mobilizing Services and Systems

Libraries have been providing reference service by phone for many years, and most university libraries also provide reference services by e-mail, instant messaging, and chat. At least in the US, few libraries are using text messages to communicate with users at this point. Some library users can access some factual information via their mobile devices, including their record of items checked out, the hours the library is open, and directions to the library.

Some university libraries have begun to make versions of their catalogs available for access on mobile devices. The North Carolina State University (NCSU) MobiLIB catalog interface, for example, is optimized for mobile devices.

The Open WorldCat offers citation styles for many of its entries; students needing quick access to the correct citation format for the sources for their paper might find access to WorldCat by cell phone to be useful. OCLC is experimenting with what it takes to make WorldCatmore mobile.


Mobilizing Environments

The use of mobile devices also has implications for the physical spaces in libraries. For example, some libraries are loaning mobile devices, including iPods and videoc ameras, and many are loaning laptops.


Libraries’ instruction classrooms may be employed during workshops to teach students and faculty about how to use new mobile devices on the market and how to upload content to their devices.



According to the EDUCAUSE Evolving Technologies Committee, the University of South Dakota has been issuing PDAs to students since 2001 and they are preloaded with materials, including reference books.

Other institutions may be planning or offering similar programs. Does the library want a seat at the table when such programs are developed and offered? Does the library want to play a role in the selection and licensing of content for mobile devices in such cases or is this a role better played by the campus bookstore? Does the library want to become a service hub for mobile content and devices, or is this a role better played by IT or some other group?

Each institution needs to consider what role the library should play in relation to mobile content and devices. If the library is not at the table, will other campus units make decisions that result in incompatibility with equipment and content purchased and licensed by the library?

Libraries may want to approach the consideration of provision of content and services for mobile users at two levels, internally within the library and at an institutional level. Some issues that the library may wish to examine in-house are the library’s role in:

Licensing information products for mobile devices
• Hosting or pointing to institutional content intended for mobile devices, e.g. podcasts
Preserving new content types and formats
• Providing instruction on the devices themselves,not just access to content
Providing space for new equipment and work styles

Libraries may want to take a campus leadership role and consider establishing a task force or study group thati nvolves individuals representing various sectors of the university to examine issues related to mobile users, or if such an institution-wide group already exists, libraries may want to ensure that they are represented.

The group may want to address:

Specific goals and objectives for mobilecontent/services (in research and instruction)
• The current state of uptake of mobile devices by campus sectors
Target audience for anticipated content/services
• Stakeholders who should be involved in the detailed planning
• A clear understanding of resources needed and funding streams
• A plan for assessment of the effectiveness of the new content/services

As with most technology developments, this one is fast-moving. This is not a time to sit on the sidelines asother campus units are developing services for mobile users and licensing content for mobile devices. Academic libraries should make conscious choices about what they want to offer in this arena and act accordingly.

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